By Rob Brooks

What do you know? The creative force behind science’s favorite Facebook site is … a woman. Holy mother of Christ!

Just over a year ago, Elise Andrew, then a biology student at the University of Sheffield, created a Facebook page, to which she gave the catchy name “I Fucking Love Science” (IFLS). Combining interesting facts, sumptuous pictures, quotes from celebrity scientists and geeky jokes, the site took off instantly.

Today it has more than 4.3 million fans. And for the many whingers who simply couldn’t bring themselves to like a page with the “F-word” in its name, she mirrored it at Science is Awesome (255,000 fans).

Apparently, IFLS amassed 1,000 “likes” in its first 24 hours, mocking the adoption rate of other pages (my own effort, Sex, Genes & Rock, took 18 months to amass 1,000 fans).

In the whirlwind year since she started IFLS, Andrew has relocated to Canada to work with the LabX Media Group, and now has a team at her disposal to maintain her spinoff Facebook pages: Evolution, The Universe, and The Earth Story.

Elise Andrew’s identity wasn’t any kind of secret, even if most IFLS fans had no reason to know her name. They could have clicked the “about” link on the IFLS page profile. All that changed early last week when she announced she had joined Twitter:

I got Twitter! I figured it’s about time I started exploring other social media. If you’re on there, can you Tweet me some science people worth following?



The IFLS post (above) that alerted some of Elise Andrew’s slower-moving fans that she is of the female persuasion. Facebook

This being science and the 21st Century, you would expect those folks who hadn’t realized that IFLS had a curator – with a real live name and a gender – to file the info away and carry on with business as usual.

Instead, this apparent “outing” had all the surprise and slightly less panache than King Julian jumping from a cake at the beginning of Madagascar 2 wearing a coconut bra and yelling:

I’m a lady. I’m a lady everyone!…. Which of you is attracted to me?

Some days I’m ashamed to be a citizen of the internet.

Fans, seeing Andrew’s name and photograph for the first time, revealed a snapshot of their implicit assumptions. Some admitted their embarrassment at having implicitly assumed IFLS was run by a man.

By no means were men the only ones making the assumptions. According to Kelly Waitforit Fox:

Always pictured a guy lol … An I sexist against myself? Haha

But the commentators who felt obliged to share their delightful insights into Elise’s appearance were overwhelmingly male. This comment from one Lou Forbes number among the more benign:

you mean you’re a girl, AND you’re beautiful? wow, i just liked science a lil bit more today ^^

And some felt their implicit assumptions sprang from the robust language used to underline IFLS’s enthusiasm for science. According to a Scott Smedley:

I thought that because of all the ways you were so proud to spout off “I fucking love science” in a difient swary manner against people who hated sware words being used that you was a dude.

More than 1,500 people have commented on Andrew’s latest “outing” – most, I am pleased to say, encouraging her to keep doing what she does. Others, too, have confronted those fans blurting sexist rubbish.

And yet, while science grapples with how best to encourage all talented and smart people to participate, an appreciable slice of the science-friendly public tend to assume that a clever, funny and profane site has to be the product of a male mind.

The internet, and blogging in particular, promised to make communicating about ideas and their meaning more democratic. And yet women who blog about science still find the sexism, threats and unwanted sexual attention so common that a real need exists for workshops such as: The Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name.

It’s more than 150 years since Mary Ann Evans started publishing as George Elliot in order to be sure her work would be taken seriously. And yet women often have to choose between concealing their name and gender and being taken seriously. Even on a fun and lighthearted Facebook page.

Rob Brooks, Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Director, Evolution & Ecology Research Centre,  does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

2 Comments for this entry

  • Chana says:

    Interesting… especially considering what’s been happening all over the news this week. Seems maybe we’re not as evolved as we like to think?

  • Chana says:

    Just like to add, on that note – it’s interesting that the photo of Julia Gillard knitting has been said to be ‘unfeminist’ or “Stepford-like’. Isn’t feminism about the freedom of women to do what they love? Just like Emily Andrews, loving science and being able to express that in her facebook page. As someone who loves both science and embroidery, I can’t see why they have to be seen as two different coins… rather, are they not two facets on the same diamond?

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